BLAGDON LAKE BIRDS

October 2013 News


In the coming weeks I'll be:


Tuesday 1st October [Overcast and misty]

Let's start with news that the elusive Great White Egret Ardea alba was at Top End again this morning, though only showing intermittently, and the juvenile Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus is still spending time feeding between Pipe Bay and around the Lodge to Home Bay. When I left at about 1330 hrs it was feeding by the fishing jetty and showing very well. At Top End I counted 77 Northern Pintail Anas acuta, 14 Ringed Plovers Charadrius hiaticula, 4 Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago, and saw a Dunlin Calidris alpina and the juvenile Little Stint Calidris minuta on Wookey Point. A Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus flew past me at Wood Bay Point as I was heading towards Top End hide.

This evening I walked a Nathusius's Pipistrelle Pipistrellus nathusii transect from the dam to Holt Copse. I probably recorded 2 - 4 Nathusius's, but haven't fully analysed the gps track and recordings yet. I did record a pass by a Lesser Horseshoe Rhinolophus hipposideros somewhere near the Fishing Lodge entrance gate.

The water level has dropped again to 48% (Bristol Water website).

Wednesday 2nd October [Showers]

Early this morning the juvenile Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus had relocated to Holt Bay, where it's been feeding all day. I also saw about 30 Meadow Pipits Anthus pratensis feeding on the shore in the weeds there too. The family of 5 (an adult and 4 juveniles) Egyptian Geese from Chew have finally touched down at Blagdon where I saw them first at Cheddar Water, then in front of the Lodge before I went to look at Top End. New in there was a juvenile Ruff Philomachus pugnax and 10 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus, as well as the 14 Ringed Plovers Charadrius hiaticula, juvenile Little Stint Calidris minuta and Dunlin Calidris alpina. I only spotted a single Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago among the snoozing wildfowl and while I was counting Ringed Plovers for the umpteenth time, the Garganey Anas qurequedula swam through my field of view, as it did on the 25th Sept. in the same place.

In the afternoon, when I got back from visiting friends, I saw the Great White Egret Ardea alba at Top End (having been tipped off by Chris Stone that it was back), just in time to see it take off and fly east towards Chew. So, I consoled myself by walking up to Bell's Bush and counting 369 Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope and 479 Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata. I saw small flocks of Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica and House Martin Delichon urbicum moving through during my time at the lake, and spotted 1st-winter Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus green 'L42' from Normandy, France, again. Two Common Gulls Larus canus were among the Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus during the late afternoon, the portent of things to come.

This evening I decided to try and find out where the Glossy Ibis is roosting. I found it at 1815 hrs in Pipe Bay, a favourite location, so thought it might just pop up into the Willows there, but no, it took off and headed straight up the lake towards Top End. I jumped into the car and followed. I settled into the Top End hide at dusk and saw it poking around on the mud before wading out onto a mud bank where, after a quick preen, it settled down and went to sleep at around 1855 hrs. While I was there, the Great White Egret also flew in and after a short period in the feeder stream it flew up into the Scot's Pines at Indian Country and settled on the outside of the wood at a height of 40-50 feet. However, the breeze was quite strong and after several readjustments, it settled just inside the wood at a height of some 20-30 feet. Two ♂ Tawny Owls Strix aluco were singing just behind the hide as I got in the car and drove home at 1920 hrs.

Thursday 3rd October [Overcast and showery with an easterly breeze]

The juvenile Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus was in Holt Bay again early this morning, and at Top End I saw 12 Ringed Plovers Charadrius hiaticula, the juvenile Little Stint Calidris minuta, a Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago and 2 Dunlins Calidris alpina during a brief visit.

By early afternoon the Ibis had moved to Tiny's Shallow in front of the Lodge. Richard Mielcarek, Paul Williams and I all saw a juvenile Eurasian Hobby Falco subutteo at Top End where there were a few Migrant Hawkers Aeshna mixta flying in the rain. However, there has been no sign of the Black Swan today.There is a small amount of inflow to the lake, after all the rain, that is colouring up the water and most Eurasian Teal Anas crecca and Wigeon Anas penelope were out of the water on the mud. I had a count of the Northern Pintail Anas acuta that I could identify from the hide in the rain and made it 92 (my highest ever count, though well short of the record 180).

This evening I went down to Top End and saw the Great White Egret Ardea alba in what's left of Rugmoor Bay, as I drove to the hide. At 1901 hrs all the roosting ducks (mainly Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata) flew onto the water and the Glossy Ibis flew in to roost on the mud bank. Then, at 1904 hrs the Great White Egret flew along Indian Country bank and landed in one of the Scot's Pines where it seemed to settle down to preen.

There is a curious 'yellow-legged' gull that has been appearing in front of the Lodge recently and while I initially thought it was a Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis, I am beginning to think it might actually be a Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull hybrid. I want to get a few pictures of it, but as yet, whenever I have the camera to hand it's way out of shooting range or nowhere to be seen.

Friday 4th October [Showers]

After heavy overnight rain and thunderstorms, I was hoping for something new today on my early morning visit. The Great White Egret Ardea alba was feeding alongside a Grey Heron Ardea cinerea in the middle of Long Bay when I drove along, but as soon as I stopped the car it flew off. At Top End there wasn't much change with 12 Ringed Plovers Charadrius hiaticula, the juvenile Little Stint Calidris minuta and a Dunlin Calidris alpina in front of the hide. When I left, the GWE was showing very well, fishing out in the middle of Top End with the Grey Herons and a Little Egret Egretta garzetta. Amazingly, I spotted the Garganey Anas qurequedula to the left of the hide again too. The juvenile Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus, initially in Wood Bay, had flown to Holt Bay to feed and was also showing nicely under a brilliant rainbow. I don't know how I missed it yesterday, but the Black Swan Cygnus atratus was off Green Lawn with the Mute Swan Cygnus olor flock again this morning.

Mid-afternoon a second Dunlin was feeding with the shorebirds at Top End (thanks for the call Paul Williams) and Richard Mielcarek emailed later to say that the Glossy Ibis was showing very well at Pipe Bay (restricted viewing over the gate though) along with a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos.

I carried out a Nathusius's Pipistrelle Pipistrellus nathusii transect walk from Holt Bay to Top End and recorded at least one, possibly two. I also saw the Glossy Ibis settling down to roost in the usual spot, but couldn't see the GWE from where I was standing at Rainbow Point, though it may have been hidden.

Saturday 5th October [Sunny and warm]

There's nothing new to report apart from the significant reduction in Northern Pintail Anas acuta numbers to half that of Thursday (now 46), a Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe at Green Lawn (thanks to Simon Isgar for the news), and the fact that the Great White Egret finally seems to have taken its leave.

The mobile juvenile Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus is generally in the area around the Lodge and even looking looking the part in the sunshine today! At Top End there was an adult Little Egret Egretta garzetta, with 14 Ringed Plovers Charadrius hiaticula, the juvenile Little Stint Calidris minuta and a Dunlin Calidris alpina on Wookey Point, and 10 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus at Hellfire Corner.

I have been asked several times recently "what's the rarest bird we've had at Blagdon Lake." So, for a bit of fun, I've done some digging around and if we were to take the number of occurrences in Great Britain up to the end of 2012 as our definition, then the Top 10 would come out as:

    1. Sharp-tailed Sandpiper 32 occurrences
    2. Black-winged Pratincole 36
    3. Pied-billed Grebe 40
    4. Franklin's Gull 67
    5. Marsh Sandpiper 138
    6. Squacco Heron 153
    7. Lesser Scaup 165
    8. Long-billed Dowitcher 238
    9. Baird's Sandpiper 248
    10. American Golden Plover 279 (to end 2011 only)

I did a Nathusius's Pipistrelle Pipistrellus nathusii transect walk again this evening and looked to see if the GWE and Glossy Ibis roosted at Top End before I started, but I saw neither. However, I did see a Barn Owl Tyto alba during the walk and recorded 2 Nathusius's and, of note, a Lesser Horseshoe Bat Rhinolophus hipposideros.

Sunday 6th October [A beautiful sunny and warm autumn day]

What a fantastic day to be out and about. The juvenile Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus is still present and usually to be found between Pipe and Holt Bays. Aside from the ibis and an adult Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis, it's very quiet today, with the shorebirds having cleared out at last. I counted 14 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus, saw 4 Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus at Hellfire Corner and heard several Northern Ravens Corvus corax flying overhead. There were a few more Common Gulls Larus canus at Top End as they start to arrive for the winter, and quite a few migrating Red Admirals Vanessa atalanta heading south over the lake towards the Mendips though, perversely, I did see a couple heading north too - reverse migration Keith? The Black Swan Cygnus atratus was off Green Lawn.

I did a Nathusius's Pipistrelle Pipistrellus nathusii transect walk this evening and heard a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos at the dam, recorded 2 Nathusius's (one at either end of the dam) and a Lesser Horseshoe Bat Rhinolophus hipposideros along Butcombe Bank.

Monday 7th October [Sunny and warm most of the day]

I shall start by confirming that the juvenile Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus has been at the lake all day, as have I, and that the only other birds of note were a group of 7 Skylarks Alauda arvensis that flew over, a Little Egret Egretta garzetta at Top End, 25 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus, a Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe and the Black Swan Cygnus atratus.

However, at about midday while checking ducks from Bell's Bush I picked up a ♀ Aythya that looked quite interesting. So, I drove back to Wood Bay Point to get a slightly closer view and see if my initial impression of a possible Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis was borne out. I scrutinised the bird for about half an hour and was joined by Robert Billingsley, who unfortunately had broken his scope earlier, before I rang Richard Mielcarek to see if the 'Chew Boys' wanted to come and take a look too. He came over with Andy Davis.

My impression was that the bird was the size of a Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula or very slightly larger. The head was dark brown with a large white facial blaze, pale ear patches, a yellow-brown iris, dark brown neck and upper breast, pale and blotchy side panels that are concolorous with the front of the mantle, dark brown tertials, primaries and tail, and a white belly. The legs appear to be grey-black. After seeing the bird flap its wings on a number of occasions during my 4.5 hour observation I was no clearer to clinching the upper wing pattern, until at 1635 hrs, Richard Mielcarek and I momentarily saw a wing stretch that we agreed showed a white secondary panel and grey primary panel. The head shape is sleek and rounded most of the time when the bird is feeding and just now and again appears to show a flat crown with a high point at the rear. It is this, the size and the general feel that make me wonder about it... could it be a hybrid? At present, the consensus seems to be that, on balance, it probably is a ♀ Lesser Scaup.

I'm putting it out there for others to come and take a look tomorrow, hopefully, and just maybe we'll get some closer views and have the opportunity to take some pictures.

Tuesday 8th October [Sunny spells with drizzle setting in at lunchtime]

The juvenile Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus has been feeding in Long Bay this morning and I saw it again at dusk in Wood Bay.

The putative Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis showed quite well for an hour or more close in to Wood Bay Point this morning (about 150-200 metres range) before drifting way out towards Rugmoor Point. Chris Craig and Chris Stone came to take a look with Richard Mielcarek and I, and although many of the field marks are right for Lesser Scaup, no-one is prepared to say it is one - it just doesn't seem to have the right jizz, especially around the head. Here are some, admittedly poor, pix taken with my 600 mm lens when it was nearest to the bank.

Mystery ♀ Aythya © Nigel Milbourne, 2013

Hopefully, the pictures grabbed today give a sense of the size of the bird when compared to a Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula, the variable head shape (mostly taken when actively feeding) and the bill. There is a picture of a ♀ Lesser Scaup head in my species account taken in September for comparison.

I carried out the fifth and last October Nathusius's Pipistrelle Pipistrellus nathusii transect this evening between the Hatchery and Rugmoor Bay. In a small area behind the pines at Indian Country there were a host of bats flying including a single Nathusius's. It was a real hot spot.

Wednesday 9th October [Overcast with occasional sunny spells and decidedly cooler]

The juvenile Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus was asleep on Home Bay Point at lunchtime, and in front of the Lodge there was a Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe and 2 juvenile Dunlins Calidris alpina. Todays cool breeze had a late autumn feel to it, with a few more Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus in (I counted 32), and although the Black Swan Cygnus atratus is still present, many of the Mute Swans Cygnus olor were seemingly restless and flying around. A juvenile Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus was causing havoc among the wildfowl at Top End again, with ducks flying in all directions at one point.

I've spent another 3 hours looking at the mystery Aythya since I last wrote and have got some more pictures to help or confuse the issue:

Mystery ♀ Aythya © Nigel Milbourne, 2013

Left shows the underwing but also note the other wing where you can see a hint of the upperwing panel too. Right shows the underwing in better focus than yesterdays shots. It has been shown (e.g. Garner 2002, in Birding World 15: 506-508) that the underwing pattern of a Lesser Scaup does not match the upperwing pattern and if you click on these links you will see pictures on the University of Puget Sound Musem website : Upperwing and underwing. Likewise, here are links to Greater Scaup Aythya marila upperwing and underwing (admittedly of the Pacific race, taken in Washington State in December). In my opinion, the underwing looks okay for Lesser Scaup.

Keith Vinicombe, Andy Davis and I watched it together this morning and we all agree it ticks many of the boxes for Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis, but...

Thursday 10th October [Sunny and much cooler with a northerly breeze]

Late afternoon the juvenile Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus was feeding around Wood and Holt Bays. There were 5 Dunlins Calidris alpina on Tiny's Shallow in front of the Lodge, only 8 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus and a Little Egret Egretta garzetta of note at Top End, and I counted 77 Northern Pintails Anas acuta. I understand someone saw a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos and Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis at the lake today as well. I heard a Common Sandpiper calling at Wood Bay yesterday and saw the Yellow-legged Gull at Spinney Point but forgot to write them up.

Roy Curber and I will be trying to do the WeBS count on Saturday morning starting at 0930 hrs, but with 'shedloads' of dabbling ducks present it will be a tall order, with half the team away at the moment. Does anyone fancy joining us to count a couple of species? All help, on a one-off basis with no future commitment, will be gratefully received.

The Bristol Water website is reporting the Blagdon Lake level to be 46%, down another 2% on last week. Soon, I shall have to rename the website 'Blagdon Puddle Birds'!

I was walking around lunchtime, from Lydford-on-Fosse to Bruton, and saw quite a few Red-legged Partridges and lots of Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the fields.

Friday 11th October [Sunny, cool and breezy]

The juvenile Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus is now into the third week of its stay and, although not seen early on by Simon Isgar, it was back in Long Bay late morning and when I left again mid-afternoon. Aside from the ibis, it was very quiet this morning, with the Little Egret Egretta garzetta at Top End and a Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis in front of the Lodge the best birds noted. I understand there were large movements of Redwings along the coast but there was no evidence of this mid-morning at Blagdon - just one Skylark Alauda arvensis.

Here are some upperwing shots of the mystery ♀ Aythya taken today:

Mystery ♀ Aythya © Nigel Milbourne, 2013

The upperwing was much easier to photograph today, in the north-easterly wind, and looks like a classic Lesser Scaup. I've noticed an additional feature in these pictures that is shown on the museum upperwings of Lesser Scaup and apparently not on Greater Scaup and that is the small white patch on a feather (secondary?) nearer the body. I can't say unequivocally that it is a difference between the two because there may be the faintest hint of a similar patch on one of the museum ♀ Greater Scaup upperwings, but it isn't evident on the others. Has anyone else noticed this, or, got photos showing it on either species, especially Greater Scaup? No field guides show this level of detail, including Sibley, and the photographic guide to Wildfowl of the World has no flight shots. I guess it's going to be another trawl through the internet pictures tonight, with the proviso that not all are labelled correctly anyway, of course!

I have put feeders up again at the Lodge and Ubley Hatchery entrance a couple of days ago and the birds are beginning to use them, so check them out occasionally.

Saturday 12th October [Mainly sunny and warmer than of late]

We got juvenile Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus on the WeBS count for the first time this morning, which was some recompense for a monumental 5 hour effort by 84 years old Roy Curber and I. Other birds of note were a calling Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia, when we arrived, an adult Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis, a Little Egret Egretta garzetta at Top End, a single flyover Skylark Alauda arvensis and a couple of small flocks of Redwings Turdus iliacus.

Then there were the ducks... By far and away the biggest ever WeBS count I've done at Blagdon in 16 years, with over 6700 waterbirds comprising 1749 Eurasian Teal Anas crecca, 755 Mallard Anas platyrhynchos, 669 Northern Shoveler Anas clypeatus (a site record), 619 Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope, 543 Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula, 208 Gadwall Anas strepera, 117 Common Pochard Aythya ferina and 109 Northern Pintail Anas acuta, not to mention the 1213 Common Coots Fulica atra and 92 Common Moorhens Gallinula chloropus and smaller numbers of other species.

The BTO website WeBS Report Online shows that Blagdon is on HIGH ALERT due to the 5yr short (-68%) and 25yr long term (-51%) decline in Eurasian Teal Anas crecca numbers. I think this probably reflects water level 'management' more than anything else, but don't have evidence to substantiate it at the moment. Nevertheless, today's count is a welcome return to form. Chew Valley Lake is on Medium Alert due to a short term fall in Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata numbers, so the record count at Blagdon today is worthy of note. Both species are very susceptible to disturbance and the exceedingly low water level means that it is too shallow for boats at Top End, and it is too weedy for bank anglers, so the birds remain undisturbed east of the line between Rugmoor and Rainbow Points (aside from low flying hot air balloons and Peregrine Falcons).

Sunday 13th October [Overcast with rain setting in at lunchtime]

Rich Andrews posted a tweet to say that a hot air balloon had spooked all the waterbirds late yesterday, but thankfully, with American birders Dale and Carolyn that I met in Alaska arriving on Tuesday, the juvenile Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus was still at Home Bay Point this morning. There were 2 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta at Top End and a few more Mute Swans Cygnus olor, bringing the total to 56 (including 10 juveniles) today. The Black Swan Cygnus atratus is finding conditions to its liking and it won't be too long before the Bewick's (Tundra) Swans Cygnus columbianus bewikii arrive, and with the lake as it is, perhaps they'll stick around for a month or two as well.

Late afternoon Sean Davies saw the Glossy Ibis in Long Bay and a Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos at Cheddar Water.

The YACWAG team were planning to finish checking the north shore bat boxes this afternoon, but with the rain setting in we decided to postpone it.

I see there is a message posted on the Bristol Water Fisheries website today by Tony Donnelly, the Assistant Fisheries Manager, that reads as follows:

"Despite our best intentions, Bristol Water Fisheries have been informed that it will not be possible to offer any extra fishing this winter due to licencing restrictions from Natural England (NE). As many anglers know, all of our lakes are classified under European Union frameworks as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and are Special Protected Areas (SPA) due to the important habitats they provide to bird species. In our specific case this simply means the appropriate paperwork would never be completed in time for fishing to take place into December. As a result we can now confirm the following dates in the fishing Calendar:

Although deeply disappointed that we are unable to extend what has been a magnificent season, negotiations will continue with NE and it is our hope that in future we will be in a position to increase fishing activity on our lakes."

Although I haven't fished for five years, I can tell you that the season has already been extended in recent times resulting in the season starting earlier and finishing at least a month later than when I fished regularly. We can add the (very probable) illegal stocking of Northern Pike Esox lucius into Chew and Blagdon that has also resulted in increased fishing activity during the winter months. Now, BW are stocking with triploid Rainbows (because there are restrictions on fish movement imposed by the Environment Agency), which ultimately means there will be no reason to have a close season at all for Rainbow Trout because they don't breed naturally and go out of condition. You can see where this is going.

Sadly, Natural England doesn't have a very good track record when it comes to protecting native bird species in the face of commercial interests e.g. the eradication of Hen Harrier as a breeding bird in England because of the perceived damage it does on Red Grouse moors, and now we have licences being extended to shooting estates to 'control' Common Buzzards because of the perceived damage they do to the 34 million, or so, (non-native) Pheasants introduced into our countryside.

I understand why the BW fisheries team may wish to increase the length of the season again, but I should like to think that Natural England will do the right thing and ensure that the insidious erosion of 'quiet time' for wildlife at the lakes will be considered when negotiations take place. If angling does become a year-round activity, we need appropriate checks and balances to be put in place in order that the wildlife value isn't diminished on the BW estate. I sincerely hope that NE and BW come to a suitable arrangement (viz. that commercial interests are suitably moderated) in order to safeguard the 'duck fest' that we have at Blagdon Lake currently, and that it will be there for generations to come, as provided for in legislation.

Monday 14th October [Sunshine and showers]

The juvenile Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus was in what's left of Long Bay again this morning and there were 2 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta at Top End when a 3rd bird flew over, heading west, while I was at Bell's Bush checking through the wildfowl. I couldn't find the mystery ♀ Aythya at lunchtime, but it's not easy to find a single bird in the huge numbers packed into Top End. When I got back to the Lodge there was an adult Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis preening among a handful of large gulls, and while I was photographing it, a 2nd bird flew in. One has some fine streaking on the nape and the other has it restricted to around the eye and crown, which is why I knew there were two birds involved in recent sightings. I was a bit unsure about the bird with streaking on the nape because Pete Rock, who rings urban gulls locally, has warned us that there are some Lesser Black-backed x Herring Gull pairings that are producing hybrid young. However, I'm happy that both these birds are the 'real deal' having watched them fairly closely today.

Tuesday 15th October [Sunny and warm]

With the lake looking like a mirror, the juvenile Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus was in Long Bay and the mobile Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos at Cheddar Water again this morning. There were 2 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta at Top End and another in Long Bay - which with hardly any water and the sun beating down, had quite a Mediterranean feel to it!

I saw a single flyover Skylark Alauda arvensis at Wood Bay while I was looking for the mystery ♀ Aythya which was feeding right over at Rugmoor Point.

Most of the gulls were on the bank at Burmah Road and difficult to view, but our flock of naturalised Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis was back to 15 again today having lost the extra bird that dropped in with them over the weekend. Could it have been a migrant? I guess we'll never know, but some Barnies turned up as far south as the Scilly Isles. There is a single bird that hangs around with the wintering Canada Goose Branta canadensis flock as well, but that was accounted for during our WeBS count.

I didn't see the Glossy Ibis late this afternoon but Alan Herring rang to say he saw it at Holt Bay on the way home from fishing while I was at Top End.

Bristol Water give the water level as 43% today.

Wednesday 16th October [Showers then sunny. Windy.]

The juvenile Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus was in Long Bay this morning and I was really pleased to see 2 adult Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Wood Bay Point. Looking at their bill patterns I suspect they might be 'Jonitor' and 'Willows', but the disappointing thing was they didn't have any young ones with them. There was a juvenile Ruff Philomachus pugnax and quite a few Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus at Bell's Bush too.

As I had Dale and Carolyn from New Mexico birding with me, we moved on to Chew to see a few new birds there before heading off to the Somerset Levels for the afternoon in the sunshine. I'm sure the birds have been covered elsewhere, so it is nice to report that we saw lots of Red Admirals Vanessa atalanta, a couple of Small Tortoiseshells Aglais urticae, and singletons of Comma Polygonia c-album and Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria. I was amazed at the number of Migrant Hawkers Aeshna mixta still on the go along the cycle path at Ham Wall, where there were also good numbers of Common Darter Sympetrum striolatum sunning themselves on the path.

I'm sorry I havent worked out how to tweet from my phone yet, so I rang RBA with the bird news because I didn't get home until this evening.

Thursday 17th October

No news today, cos I have been away (an old Beatles song). I birded the Exe Estuary with Carolyn and Dale today. Of note, we had a Common Scoter and Slavonian Grebe on the sea, and late Blackcap and Reed Warbler at Dawlish Warren NNR, with Spotted Redshank, Whimbrel, Greenshank and Avocet at RSPB Bowling Green Marsh at high tide this evening.

I'll be back on the patch in the morning...

Friday 18th October [Showers]

I did not see the Glossy Ibis today, although I wasn't at the lake for very long looking for it. I did see the 2 adult Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii which flew out towards Chew after circling Top End a couple of times. They came back again a short while later and were still at Bell's Bush at dusk. There were 30 Grey Herons Ardea cinerea and a Little Egret Egretta garzetta standing around at Top End and a small flock of Eurasian Siskins Carduelis spinus around the Lodge / Home Bay.

Later, Carolyn and I saw a Brambling Fringilla montifringilla at Priddy and this afternoon I took her and Dale along the River Chew looking for (White-throated) Dippers Cinclus cinclus. We saw one fly away downstream from Pensford Bridge, then nothing at Publow or Woollard, but luckily Compton Dando came up trumps with 2 birds showing beautifully. On the way back to Blagdon we stopped at Herriott's and watched a Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica hawking over the pool at dusk, and up to 4 Green Sandpipers Tringa ochropus on the island behind the gathering gulls.

Saturday 19th October [Overcast and mild. Occasional showers.]

Simon Isgar reported 2 Eurasian Curlews Numenius arquata in front of the Lodge at 0900 hrs but they were gone by 1015 hrs.

The 2 adult Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii were at Bell's Bush again mid-morning and there were 2 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta among the Grey Herons Ardea cinerea at Top End. The Black Swan Cygnus atratus is still present as is the mystery ♀ Aythya which has undergone significant head moult since I last saw it. The head and neck are darker now, the rounded head shape is less pronounced and a point is more evident on the rear of the crown. The pale ear coverts have all but disappeared too. The bill pattern looks very like a ♀ Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula but this is not necessarily a bad thing during this transitional period. The bill is, however, a different size and shape to a Tufted Duck. I tried to get some pictures this afternoon but a boat went into the flock and flushed the bird.

This afternoon, while at Green Lawn, a November Moth Epirrita dilutata landed on my car allowing me to photograph it.

Sunday 20th October [Sunshine and showers]

The 2 adult Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii were at Bell's Bush this morning, where we counted 23 Grey Herons Ardea cinerea and 3 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta. At Holt Bay I stopped to spend some time going through the large flock of mainly ♂ Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula and found an old friend that was fitted with a nasal saddle (blue 34) at Marolles-sur-Seine in France on 19th November 2007 (per Alain Caizergues), and noted for the first time at Blagdon on 2nd August 2008. The mystery ♀ Aythya was also there, but both were disturbed by a walker so I couldn't get any pictures. An adult Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna roosting at Holt Bay was also flushed by yet more walkers. The adult Black Swan Cygnus atratus was at Long Bay and a Dunlin Calidris alpina in front of the Fishing Lodge. At Cheddar Water I saw the usual Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, that I couldn't find for love nor money when Carolyn and Dale were here, and a Migrant Hawker Aeshna mixta flew past Tony Donnelly and I while we were chatting at the south end of the dam.

At Bell's Bush meadow a couple of small groups of yellow waxcap Hygrocybe sp. have sprung up, and elsewhere I saw a few other fungi that will be worth taking the camera out to photograph tomorrow.

Monday 21st October [Showers]

Julia Newth emailed to say that Steve Heaven came down at the weekend and confirmed that the 2 Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii are 'Jonitor' and 'Willows', as I thought. See her blog with the latest migration info. Julia also sent a message in 2011 that read "This pair arrived at Slimbridge on the 20th (December 2011) with Winkey! They have been named Jonitor/Willows." I saw them at Top End again today.

There wasn't too much to else to report, just 2 adult Yellow-legged Gulls Larus michahellis in front of the Lodge late morning, the Black Swan Cygnus atratus in Home Bay with about 20 Mute Swans Cygnus olor, and I saw a (presumed) Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe very briefly at Green Lawn. Despite an extensive search I just could not relocate it. Before I left mid-afternoon, I checked the gulls at the Lodge again and saw an adult Herring Gull Larus argentatus with a dark blue darvic on its left leg inscribed 'JBB' and a BTO metal ring on its right leg. It is one of Peter Stewart's birds ringed at Stoke Orchard Landfill Site on 30th January 2010 as a bird at least 3 years of age. It was recorded many times at Gloucester and Shortwood Landfill Sites and once at Barrow Gurney in 2010, then again at Gloucester Landfill Site before its last sighting at Barrow Gurney on 10th Sept. 2011. Thanks for the quick reply Peter.

Mystery ♀ Aythya showing overall impression & close comparison with a Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula © Nigel Milbourne, 2013

Mystery ♀ Aythya showing bill pattern, flattened crown & reduced facial blaze cf. 8th Oct © Nigel Milbourne, 2013

Mystery ♀ Aythya showing pointed tail feathers indicative of an adult © Nigel Milbourne, 2013

The mystery ♀ Aythya was feeding at the entrance to Long Bay again today, and I managed a few shots in the gloom and rain that help me age it as an adult, show that it is only marginally larger than a Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula (it is partially rolling away from the lens in the top right comparison photo), has gone through significant head moult since the 8th October and has a ♀ Tufted-like bill pattern.

Tuesday 22nd October [Showers]

Despite the showers and changeable weather it is still quiet on the bird front. I found the Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe again this morning at Green Lawn, and the 2 adult Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii were at Top End keeping out of the way of an aggressive Mute Swan Cygnus olor cob. I noticed a dead adult Mute Swan at Cheddar Water (the second of the autumn). It was completely missing its head and neck and had some trauma on one of the legs consistent with something hanging on to it. Possibly a Red Fox Vulpes vulpes or out of control dog? There were at least 4 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta and 103 Northern Pintails Anas acuta at Top End, while the Black Swan Cygnus atratus was feeding on its own in Long Bay. When I arrived, I saw a single adult Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis in front of the Lodge and later I saw 7 Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus there, with some others (not counted) at Burmah Road.

Alex Carlisle very kindly sent me an email today with an attached flight view of the Glossy Ibis that I've put into the Guests Photo Gallery.

I collected the passive bat monitoring equipment and it has recorded just shy of 9000 files that I have to go through tonight! I've already found lots of Nathusius's Pipistrelle Pipistrellus nathusii echolocation and advertisement calls for the first night, 1st/2nd October.

Wednesday 23rd October [Sunny, with some early showers]

I've had an amazing day at the lake. After scanning the Lodge area this morning, I spotted a pale grey and white wagtail at Holt Bay that looked very interesting. When I scoped it I could see it wasn't a Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola but thought it had the appearance of a grey and white (possibly eastern-type) 1st-winter Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava. Richard Mielcarek came over for a look, and we ruled out a very pale Grey Wagtail even though there was a hint of yellow under the tail and on the tertial fringes in bright sunlight. It seemed to have faint olive shading over the shoulders, a very narrow white supercilium and a short tail. It also had two bold white wing bars. Rich grabbed some video footage and we called Chris Craig. No sooner had we done that and it took off and flew over Holt Farm and I wasn't able to relocate it. As it flew it gave a series of short notes unlike anything I've heard from a wagtail.

Rich had to go home at that point, so I drove to Bell's Bush and hadn't walked 100 metres from the car when I heard a wader call nearby. Great, I thought, something new to look at. Then it called again and was clearly on the wing. I looked up and watched a large plover fly low over the west side of the meadow that was grey underneath. It was no more than 200 metres away and gaining height. It called twice more as it turned and flew towards Blagdon (I was hoping it was going to loop back) but then it just climbed higher and flew off south over Mendip. I wrote the call down as "kle-ee'. This is an almost exact description of the call for American Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica and the view I had of the underside in flight would fit. I drove home immediately and listened to various recordings while it was still fresh in my mind, and have no doubt that was what the bird was. I popped over to Cheddar Reservoir to see if it was there, but no luck.

I went back to Blagdon in the afternoon and eventually found the wagtail in the same place in Holt Bay. I got the camera out to take some pics and it flew off again with four or five Pied Wagtails Motacilla alba yarrellii. I called Rich and Chris Craig and we eventually found it again in front of the Lodge. It was noticeably smaller than the accompanying Pied Wags. Here are some video grabs taken by Rich this morning:

1st-winter Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava © Richard Mielcarek, 2013

It could be one of the eastern-types, but I must stress we haven't unequivocally noted the call yet. It's certainly worth a look and any help gathering notes would be appreciated.

The Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe was still at Green Lawn, and the 2 adult Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Top End today.

Has anyone else noticed the amazing crop of acorns from Pedunculate Oaks Quercus robur this autumn? I don't ever recall seeing as many. The ground underneath the oaks at the lake is absolutely littered with nuts, which is great for Eurasian Jays Garrulus glandarius.

Thursday 24th October [Mainly sunny]

After the cool, clear night, it seems there has been a bit of a clear out. Disappointingly, there was no sign of the Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava and hardly any Pied Wagtails Motacilla alba yarrellii or Meadow Pipits Anthus pratensis compared with yesterday. There was a significant and steady stream of Skylarks Alauda arvensis flying over until late morning and an arrival of Common Gulls Larus canus (previously we'd only had a handful on any one day this autumn but I counted about 140 at Top End). The other curious thing was the number of Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo flying in from Chew to fish. At one point I counted around 120 either in the air, drying their wings or fishing.

So, to the birds I did see: A Little Egret Egretta garzetta was at the head of Butcombe Bay, the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was on the south end of the dam, there were 2 adult Yellow-legged Gulls Larus michahellis in front of the Lodge at lunchtime, the Black Swan Cygnus atratus was at Green Lawn, 5 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus were at Top End, as were 'Jonitor' and 'Willows' the 2 adult Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii. I understand 7 Bewick's have been feeding behind Denny Island at Chew Valley Lake since yesterday, so perhaps they'll all get together at some point.

There were 2 white domestic ducks by the Spillway yesterday, I didn't look too closely at the time, but today I saw a white Muscovy Duck Cairina moschata on Tiny's Shallow.

I saw a Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta on the wing at Holt Bay in the sunshine.

Friday 25th October [Mainly sunny]

Simon Isgar rang me at home this morning to tell me there were 5 Mandarin Ducks Aix galericulata viewable from the Lodge. This is the first multiple record and only the 4th site record (first 1993 and last 2006). When I got there, shortly afterward, we could see 2 ♂♂ and 3 ♀♀ asleep at the water's edge in Pipe Bay. They remained there until lunchtime when an angler wading out at Cheddar Water flushed all the birds in the bay. One smug ♂ was with the 3 ♀♀ in front of the Lodge when I left, and the second ♂ was swimming around looking for the others at Polish Water. They were all back together at 1715 hrs on the end of the point in front of the Lodge (but not visible from there) known as Tiny's Shallow. View from Green Lawn.

As yesterday, there were Skylarks Alauda arvensis flying over most of the morning (perhaps not in the same numbers though), and a fresh influx of (circa 30) Meadow Pipits Anthus pratensis and 93+ Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus. The 2 adult Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii were at Top End, where there were 31 Grey Herons Ardea cinerea. Simon told me he'd seen a Little Egret Egretta garzetta in Pipe Bay earlier too. Two adult Yellow-legged Gulls Larus michahellis were in front of the Lodge, as were two gulls with rings on; a 1st-winter Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 'D:AG' which I've seen a few times, and a new adult Herring Gull Larus argentatus rung by Peter Stewart 'DZY'. It's a bird of 2008 and has been sighted mainly at Gloucester Landfill Site, Nr Hempsted in 2008-2011, with a couple of sightings at Shortwood Landfill Site, Pucklechurch in November 2008 and 2009. Then, like the bird on 21st October there's been a gap since 2011 until today's sighting.

Paul Williams texted late this afternoon to let me know that he'd seen a Little Stint Calidris minuta at Bell's Bush early afternoon. I couldn't find it at 1600 hrs.

The only other thing of note was the Muscovy Duck Cairina moschata sleeping at the south end of the dam on its own. Mike Gillett pointed out an injury to the back of the neck, so it may have been attacked by a Mute Swan Cygnus olor. Also, there are 2 white domestic ducks on Butcombe Bank, that look as if they've just been dumped there by someone. I should think they will probably get attacked at some point by one of the many pooches that are let off the lead by irresponsible dog walkers. I haven't been over to see if they're fully winged. It's getting like Heron's Green and Herriott's Pool at Chew, only we don't have lots of people rolling up and feeding them at Blagdon, so their outlook is probably grim, unless they can fly.

Saturday 26th October [Mainly dry]

I was on a fascinating Bat Roost Visitors training course at RSPCA West Hatch today, but managed to fit 2 quick visits to the lake in before and afterwards (at dawn and dusk). Aside from the escapes, I saw the 2 adult Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Top End and a Little Egret Egretta garzetta flying up the lake this morning. I didn't spend any time going through the substantial roost of gulls in front of the Lodge at dusk, but there seemed to be good numbers of Herring Gulls Larus argentatus, a species that is becoming increasingly common here.

The weather forecast is for very strong winds varying between south and west over the next two days, so perhaps we'll get some wind-blown migrants. As of the 22nd October the water level was 42% (per Bristol Water website) but perhaps it's set to rise over the coming week, which might see a reduction in dabbling duck numbers.

Sunday 27th October [Sunny then rain set in. Windy]

I had a good look around this morning while the sun was still out and was struck by the fact that many dabbling ducks seem to have moved on already. There were certainly fewer wildfowl today than when we did the last WeBS Count. Our 2 adult Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii 'Jonitor' and 'Willows' were at Bell's Bush, as were 11 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus. I also saw the Black Swan Cygnus atratus and a rather lonely-looking Muscovy Duck Cairina moschata.

The large influx of Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo that I reported 3 days ago has resulted in many staying at Blagdon. I watched a group of 30 fishing co-operatively off Orchard Bay on Friday to see what they were feeding on and it looked like they were making inroads into a sizeable shoal of European Perch Perca fluviatilis.

Monday 28th October [Overnight storm and rain followed by a breezy and showery day]

The wait for my first Blagdon Sabine's Gull continues, despite my 0700 hrs start I hadn't found any storm-driven birds by 0900 hrs. There was a Dunlin Calidris alpina in front of the Lodge, 3 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta in Pipe Bay, 2 adult Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii at Top End with over 64 Northern Pintail Anas acuta still there. I saw the 1st-winter Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus yellow 'D:AG' at Pipe Bay trying to muscle in on a dead fish carcass.

There is a good flow coming in at Top End through the Hatchery, but no sign of any fish running yet, though the freshet has coloured up the water in the lake significantly. There were piles of weed blown up on Rugmoor Point and along Indian Country bank and a large number of the Common Coots Fulica atra had moved to the dam end for shelter and most of the Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope were in Holt Bay, presumably for the same reason. Many Eurasian Teal Anas crecca were out of the water and well up the shore feeding in the wet mud and puddles.

Tuesday 29th October [Sunny]

I'm sorry, but I don't have any news from the lake today. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow.

I walked 15+ miles with friends from St. Marychurch, Babbacombe to Brixham along the South West Coast Path. Along the way, we walked onto Hope's Nose where there were a number of birders looking for a Lesser Kestrel photographed yesterday. Two birds had been seen this morning but one had gone by the time we arrived. We saw a Painted Lady Vanessa cardui there and another later in the walk at Broadsands Bay. I don't recall seeing any locally this year.

Wednesday 30th October [Sunny spells]

2 adult Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii were asleep at Bell's Bush, where there were also 14 Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus, and while I was checking Top End I heard one or more (presumed) Lesser Redpolls Carduelis cabaret calling as they flew over. There were 2 brownhead Common Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula off Green Lawn and 3 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta in Pipe Bay.

The water level has come up fairly significantly and, as predicted, there are far fewer dabbling ducks around the margins than a week or two ago. There also appears to have been a small influx of Common Pochards Aythya ferina, though I didn't count them.

Thursday 31st October [Overcast but dry]

The 2 adult Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii were at Bell's Bush as usual, as were 4 Little Egrets Egretta garzetta. Many of the dabbling ducks have spread around the lake to feed, as the level rises, and I carefully checked through a flock of Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope feeding on Rainbow Point and the many groups of Eurasian Teal Anas crecca scattered about without finding any American cousins among them. At Wood Bay I spent some time looking through Wagtails, Pipits and Linnets, again without finding anything unusual, but was struck by the numbers of birds there and elsewhere along the shores. The elusive Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was in Pipe Bay at midday. Perhaps it's the bird that wintered last year?

In front of the Lodge at lunchtime there were numerous gulls including one of Pete Rock's 'boys', an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus graellsii with yellow 'B:G' on a black or dark blue darvic on the left leg. Pete has replied with the following details:

This evening I popped down to see how the gull roost is building up and have to say there were good numbers of large gulls in addition to the Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus roost. I didn't go through them because I chose the wrong viewpoint in the southerly breeze, but I did see a pair of Common Goldeneyes Bucephalus clangula, one of which was a spanking adult ♂ - the first of the winter.